Cambridge -- The Chesapeake Bay Foundation joined local residents yesterday in calling on the governor to intervene and stop a 3,200-home subdivision planned on the doorstep of the Chesapeake region's largest wildlife refuge.
William C. Baker, president of the environmental group, said it is "ironic and cynical" for the Blackwater Resort project to hijack the name of the nearby Blackwater Wildlife Refuge that would be harmed by the suburban sprawl.
"There comes a time when you have to draw a line in the sand, and say, `No not here,'" Baker said, standing in front of the 1,080 acres of farms and wetland that would be consumed. "This development will be bad for Dorchester County, it will be bad for farming, and it will be bad for the Chesapeake Bay."
Cambridge officials and the Ehrlich administration last year approved designating the site a state "priority funding area," making the project eligible for state funding for roads and sewers under the Smart Growth Act of 1997.
Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said Ehrlich will not interfere in what he considers a mostly local issue. "The governor has a great respect for the refuge, but he also has a great respect for local government to make their own decisions," Fawell said.
Supporters of the project, including Cambridge's mayor, have called it important for the economic health of a city that has been losing population since the 1960's.
William "Sandy" McAllister, attorney for developer Dwayne E.E. Zentgraf, said the land is a logical place for growth because it is immediately south of a school complex.
"They are asking the governor's office to ignore nearly three years of county and city zoning decisions," McAllister said. "To ignore the city and county is to say they don't trust the people who are responsible for making these decisions."
Dorchester County and Cambridge officials have granted preliminary approvals for the project. The Cambridge City Council has scheduled a public hearing Feb. 9 on whether to change the designation of about a third of the development site from a "resource conservation area" to an "intensely developed area."
A final vote by the City Council on the $1 billion project is expected after another public hearing Feb. 27. Then the proposal will be reviewed by the state Critical Area Commission, which has jurisdiction over areas within 1,000 feet of Chesapeake Bay tributaries. A majority of the commission's 29 members are appointed by the governor.
The developer has said he does not intend to use any public funds for the project's roads, sewers, homes, shops, hotel, conference center, parking lots and golf course.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is circulating petitions asking the governor to use his political leverage to stop a project that would "change the character of the area forever."
The group also set up a hotline for opponents of the project (1-888-DONT-BUILD-IT) and is sponsoring a "town hall" style meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Dorchester County Library in Cambridge.
Cambridge Mayor Cleveland Rippons said he's frustrated with the foundation's involvement, and can see "no rationale why the governor should intervene."
"The Blackwater Resorts community has been on the drawing board for three years," Rippons said. "The appropriate time to comment would be at the beginning ... not at the 11th hour."
During a press conference at the development site yesterday, about 50 neighbors and environmentalists said that the subdivision will flush dirty water into the wildlife refuge, clog roads with traffic, scare away animals, and draw people out of downtown Cambridge.
The construction will not help the city because it's planned on a "gerrymandered" strip of farmland recently annexed onto the city's southwestern corner, said Fred Pomeroy, a local teacher and leader of Dorchester County Citizens for Planned Growth.
"We have the crown jewel of the National Wildlife System just down the road," Pomeroy said. "And now we have more than 3,000 houses being built here on critical wetlands. These mega developments are about the worst enemy we have of our quality of life."